Planning for Improvement

One Midwestern university found success with reorganizing facilities management in order to eliminate deferred maintenance.

Aging educational buildings are a being dealt with across the country: more than 35 percent of the campus space currently in use was constructed for enrolling Baby Boomers. Often these buildings were built quickly, with little expectation that they’d be forced to perform for the length of time that they have, and less thought still given to their ongoing operational costs. Because oil was plentiful and inexpensive during this time, there was little attention given to energy efficiency.

The result is that today’s facilities managers often find themselves holding significant deferred maintenance problems at bay with a limited budget meant for managing ongoing preventive maintenance rather than emergency repairs and major upgrades.

It was just this challenge being faced by a large Midwestern university. Nearly half of this public research university was built in the 1960s, and it was beginning to show significant wear and tear. Maintenance had been deferred across campus, worsening the performance of a number of buildings. The administration knew that some significant upgrades were needed. But maintenance was a challenge to address for a number of reasons, including the scale of the problem and the limited budget. What’s more, the university housed parts of its facilities management department in various areas across campus, which led to inconsistency in preventive maintenance programs.

Ultimately, it was determined that the best way to solve these problems was to centralize the facilities department. University decision makers determined that this single step could have a huge impact: lower costs, unified facilities standards, the creation of more consistent preventive maintenance programs, and more efficient use of staffing and resources.

Monitoring Success for Ongoing Planning
Before diving into this consolidation process, the administration recognized that it wouldn’t be able to celebrate success without a mechanism in place for monitoring the program. A tracking program would ensure that the centralization reaped the expected savings. The university administration also wanted to guarantee that any operational savings would be reinvested back into future facilities maintenance and upgrade projects.

Data was the answer. The university began this department reorganization with a thorough analysis of current needs and by instituting metrics that would allow it to create a pathway for improvement and measure ongoing success.

Getting the Right Staff in Place
The next step in this process was to right-size staffing and the budget to meet the needs of the now centralized facilities management department. Gaining appropriate staffing levels is a challenge for many higher education institutions.

In 2015, data showed that each full-time equivalent custodian at public campuses covered more than 36,000 gross square feet, on average. Facilities leaders across the country report that their staffing levels are stretched like never before. Years of flat operating budgets and the growth in overall square footage has had a significant impact on the level of staffing and the amount of space covered daily.

For this university, the solution was to organize staff into zones that attacked maintenance tasks according to specific needs. This approach helped to save travel time, and ensured work was completed in a timelier manner and at lower costs. With the right team in place, the university soon saw an up-tick in work orders. This in turn allowed the facilities team to better identify opportunities for planned maintenance that would lower the costs that had escalated due to deferred maintenance.

The 10-Year Improvement List
With the appropriate staff in place, the next step was to determine which areas of the campus were most in need of renovation. The facilities management team used third-party collected data to get a clear and accurate assessment of the current state of the campus.

Through a 10-year prediction model, the university was able to prioritize projects based on current needs, 10-year renewal needs, and modernization and infrastructure needs. Predictive modeling helped the university to determine which buildings would best be demolished rather than renovated.

In breaking needs down further, it became clear that nearly half of the projects in want of attention were related to the dated HVAC system. This system prioritization led the university to direct any savings achieved by the consolidation process back into this specific campus improvement.

With a better understanding of existing assets and their needs—in combination with the funds made available through the staffing improvements—the university was able to slog through its costly deferred maintenance and significantly increase its planned maintenance schedule.